Siege of Dunboy

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVII

The siege of Dunboy is one of the most famous and interesting episodes in Irish history. The castle was deemed almost impregnable from its situation; and every argument was used with Sir George Carew to induce him to desist from attacking it. It was then, indeed—

"Dunboy, the proud, the strong,
The Saxon's hate and trouble long."[4]

But the Lord Deputy had resolved that it should be captured. The Lord President considered the enterprise would be by no means difficult, for "he declared that he would plant the ordnance without the losse of a man; and within seven dayes after the battery was begun, bee master of all that place."[5] There was considerable delay in the arrival of the shipping which conveyed the ordnance, and operations did not commence until the 6th of June. The defence of the castle was intrusted by O'Sullivan to Richard MacGeoghegan. The chief himself was encamped with Tyrrell in the interior of the country. The soldiers were tempted, and the governor was tempted, but neither flinched for an instant from their duty. The garrison only consisted of 143 fighting men, with a few pieces of cannon. The besieging army was about 3,000 strong, and they were amply supplied with ammunition. On the 17th of June, when the castle was nearly shattered to pieces, its brave defenders offered to surrender if they were allowed to depart with their arms; but the only reply vouchsafed was to hang their messenger, and to commence an assault.

The storming party were resisted for an entire day with undaunted bravery. Their leader was mortally wounded, and Taylor took the command. The garrison at last retreated into a cellar, into which the only access was a narrow flight of stone steps, and where nine barrels of gunpowder were stored. Taylor declared he would blow up the place if life were not promised to those who surrendered. Carew refused, and retired for the night, after placing a strong guard over the unfortunate men. The following morning he sent cannon-ball in amongst them, and Taylor was forced by his companions to yield without conditions. As the English soldiers descended the steps, the wounded MacGeoghegan staggered towards the gunpowder with a lighted candle, and was in the act of throwing it in, when he was seized by Captain Power, and in another moment he was massacred. Fifty-eight of those who had surrendered were hanged immediately; a few were reserved to see if they could be induced to betray their old companions, or to renounce their faith; but as they " would not endeavour to merit life,"[6] they were executed without mercy. One of these prisoners was a Father Dominic Collins. He was executed in Youghal, his native town—a most unwise proceeding; for his fate was sure to excite double sympathy in the place where he was known, and, consequently, to promote double disaffection.[7] O'Sullivan Beare assigns the 31st of October as the day of his martyrdom.

The fall of Dunboy was a fatal blow to the national cause. The news soon reached Spain. Hugh O'Donnell had been warmly received there; but the burst of grief which his people uttered when they saw him departing from his native land, was his death-keen, for he did not long survive his voluntary expatriation. The war might now be considered over—at least, until the victims recovered courage to fight once more for their own; but the victims had to be taught how dearly they should pay for each attempt at national independence. Captain Harvey was sent to Carberry, "to purge the country of rebels"[8] by martial law. Wilmot was sent to Kerry, with orders to extirpate whole districts, which arrangement is called "settling the country," in the official document from which I quote. On one occasion a number of wounded Irish soldiers were found, who are described as "hurt and sick men;" they were at once massacred, and this is called putting them out of pain.[9]

Donnell O'Sullivan now found his position hopeless, and commenced his famous retreat to Leitrim. He set out with about 1,000 people, of whom only 400 were fighting men; the rest were servants, women, and children. He fought all the way, and arrived at his destination with only thirty-five followers.[1]


[4] Long.—Dunboy and other Poems, by T. D. Sullivan, Esq.

[5] Place.—Hibernia Pacata, vol. ii. p. 559.

[6] Life.—Hib. Pac. vol. ii. p. 578.

[7] Disaffection.—Dr. Moran quotes a letter from Dublin, written 26th Feb., 1603, which says that he imparted great edification to the faithful by his constancy, and that the whole city of Cork accompanied him with its tears.

[8] Rebels.—Commission from the Lord Deputy to Harvey.—See the document in extenso, Hib. Pac. vol. ii. p. 447.

[9] Pain.—Hib. Pac. p. 659.

[1] Followers.—The father and mother of the celebrated historian, O'Sullivan Beare, were amongst the number of those who reached Leitrim in safety. Philip, the author, had been sent to Spain while a boy, in 1602, for his education: the whole family joined him there soon after. Dr. O'Donovan is not correct in his genealogy. It is well known that the real representative of the family is Murtough O'Sullivan, Esq., of Clohina, co. Cork.